Bottom line: People can be a problem. They can arrive at the most inconvenient moment. And sometimes we don't know what to do with them. But like C. S. Lewis - and above all, like Jesus - we can say, "Think of all the souls!"
Someone asked if anything surprised me about Monroe. Among all the pleasant things - the neighborhoods, the parks, the rivers - there was something less than pleasant: the traffic! I have visited Monroe over the years, but I think I still had in my mind an image from my high school days - Monroe as a small town like Stanwood was. After fourteen years fighting Seattle traffic, I thought I was getting away from that problem. I was in for a surprise.
A person can take two different attitudes to a problem a like traffic. The two attitudes are illustrated by a conversation between C. S. Lewis and one of his friends. They were visiting one of the huge tenements that had sprung up after World War II. His friend said, "Oh, look at all those people." But Lewis responded, "Think of all those souls."
Next time I am waiting for a break in the traffic, getting impatient, maybe feeling a bit of road rage, I will try to say, "Think of all these souls."
Jesus had that attitude when he saw the huge crowd. The disciples viewed them as a problem: hungry mouths to feed, people with unpredictable behavior, a potential mob. Jesus was more practical - he told the disciples to organize them, have they recline in groups.
Last Sunday we asked the question: What do you do when people come with so many needs? Today Jesus gives us the first part of the answer: organize them. Organization requires patient, gentle and constant work. Our Evangelical friends have given us good lessons: a big part of their success follows from the patient work they do organizing people. We can do the same.
After getting people organized - at least, a bit organized - the next step is to focus attention on Jesus. If anything happens, it depends on him. And what does he do? He takes the five loaves, blessed them and distributes them. With Jesus there is always enough for everyone - and some left over. Notice that he uses barley bread - the bread of the poor. Jesus doesn't cater to fussy eaters, but it turns out that barley bread contains more nutrition than other types. The huge crowd ate until all were satisfied.
At this point we can fall into a temptation. We can start focusing on material success. Jesus suddenly became so popular, people wanted to make him king. Jesus would have none of that. He withdrew to pray - to focus on the Father. Where other people see subjects, soldiers, constituents and voters, Jesus see souls. He sees our deepest worth, our eternal value that comes from a relationship with the Father - through him in the Spirit.
Okay. Last week I told you that Jesus would give us his greatest revelation. Today we see the first step: organizing a huge crowd, then taking bread, blessing and distributing it. The inner meaning of this act Jesus will explain to us in the next four Sundays.
For each of these five Sundays, I would like to give an instruction regarding our participation in the Mass. Today's instruction pertains to our coming together as an assembly. What we see is that Jesus takes each person as he is. He does not exclude anyone. But he does organize them. When we come to Jesus, we stop being a crowd and he converts us into an assembly. In the Bible the word "Church" (eclesia) means assembly - an orderly coming together.
That orderliness has implications in terms of behavior. Much of it is common sense - like turning off cell phones, not chewing gum, dressing with dignity. Since I am new here, I hesitate to get into specific. But I ask you not to take offense if I give more specific directions. I am here as a representative, an extension of the bishop - and the bishop is a successor of the apostles. Jesus gave the apostles the responsibility of organizing the assembly. They did it with a huge crowd. Here in Monroe with a great number of souls. As pastor I have a responsibility for every soul in this parish. I ask you to help me fulfill that responsibility. Every person in Monroe (and our surrounding territory) is potentially a member of our assembly.
People can be a problem. They can arrive at the most inconvenient moment. And sometimes we don't know what to do with all of them. But like C. S. Lewis - and above all, like Jesus - we can say, "Think of all the souls!"
*Repentance means to take responsibility for ones life. It is not a negative, beating up on oneself. On the contrary, by repentance a person stops being a victim and starts taking ownership.
General Intercessions for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (from Priests for Life)
From Archives (17th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):
Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
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Fr. Brad's Homilies
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(Dedication of Bell & Tower - July 2012)
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